I read a tweet the other day by @realscientists that said, "We've raised a generation of people who can DO math, but most don't UNDERSTAND what they're doing..." and if I could have made a standing ovation tweet, I would have. Perfectly said.
Maybe the tweet had such an impact on me because it is something I noticed this year in my classroom. One example in particular is that my students do a pretty good job with the math but are struggling with the problems. In other words, they can find a NUMBER but they struggle to find an ANSWER to a problem.
I have a few theories as to why this is happening and what we can do to fix it.
One, they are terrified of failing. They've gone through hardcore testing for at least 3 years now and because of the stakes of those tests and their fear of failing them, they have allowed that to bleed into their every day academic lives and are now governed by it.
Two, they've never had to. This isn't a dog on their past teachers but rather a dog on standardization and curriculum as we know it. We've tried to get cute with math by offering a thousand ways to do the same thing and while I think offering students different tools for solving problems can be a good thing, when do we get to the point and teach them how to actually put their nose to the grindstone and SOLVE A PROBLEM!?
Three, they don't have a solid problem solving strategy, yet. Far too often, they try to dive, head first, into a problem without thinking about it first. They have a thousand ways to do division but zero ways to solve a problem.
- Provide opportunities for them to fail with you there to pick them back up and get them on their way. Teach them how to accept failure as a learning opportunity and the beginning of something new and better rather than the end.
- Which came first, the chicken or the egg? The math or the problem? Why not teach them how to solve problems while you are teaching them how to do the math? As in, introduce concepts in context. I know, they can't solve a problem if they don't know how to do the math...I get it. However, they can't do the math if they don't know how to solve the problem either- what's the point? Let's continue giving them tools for the math but let's throw in a couple problem solving strategies as well.
- NO MORE WORKSHEETS. Can we find authentic problem solving opportunities that they can relate to and get them to think that way? Just look around. MATH IS EVERYWHERE. How many blades of grass are in our soccer field? If every letter of the alphabet was assigned a value, a=1, b=2, c=3...can you find words that when all of the letters are added together, their total equals 100? We need to replace the carpeting in our classroom with tile, how many square feet of tile will we need to order? If the company we are buying tile from is selling it for $3.25 a square foot, how much will we spend on tile? If the company offers a 20% discount on each piece of tile over $100.00, how much will we save? Etc.
Let's rethink the way we teach math. Teach concepts in context. Provide the students opportunities to SOLVE open ended, real life, PROBLEMS!
A few amazing websites I've discovered that deal in problem solving strategies:
NRICH Enriching Mathematics
Follow me on Twitter! @Mr_Braden